Saturday, July 01, 2006
Angels Are Hobo’s From The Street.
I sent an e-mail inviting everyone in the hopes that some would make time to join me on a special night to celebrate some of my favourite things: Madeira, bolo do caco and poncha!...
At first everyone was interested and almost everyone said they’d come…
But when pushed came to shove, the number of people decreased to zero.
At first I was hurt, then upset and then I remembered that the only guarantee in life is that people disappoint you sooner or later. Deciding not to let it bother me, I made my way home to change clothes and I'd go to the party on my own with a good mind to have a couple of drinks and maybe even make some new friends.
Distracted with my thoughts, I didn't even realize he was coming towards me until he was right in front of me, blocking my way.
At first I was shocked and took two steps back, his clothes were old and torn and his hair and beard hadn't seen a blade in the time it took to grow a good twenty centimeters.
I told him that I was in a hurry and was about to walk around him when he asked me not be frightened of him.
After getting mugged less than a month ago, common sense demanded that I keep walking but there was something sincere and almost fragile in his voice that made me stop and look straight at him.
“I know I look scruffy and you probably should be scared of me, but please don’t be. I just wanted to warn you that there’s a black man with black clothing walking in this park that has been snatching cellphones and purses and I thought you’d want to be careful considering that you’re walking all alone. There. That’s all I wanted to say, you can go now if you want.”
I had expected to ask me for money, perhaps something to eat but nothing had prepared me for this man’s approach.
Taking a closer look, I noticed his eyes of deep blue with deep lines of sun and age and a touch of tenderness. He reminded me of my grandfather and a very thin Santa Claus.
I put my hand on his skinny arm and thanked him.
He smiled and walked away before I could say anything else.
Change in plans.
I walked into the 24 hour service supermarket and bought a cheese and ham sandwich, a pear juice and an apple and decided that I owed this man dinner.
On a day where everything that could go wrong did, where my friends had disappointed me and where I’d faced more than one act of selfishness… This man had shown me the only act of kindness I'd received all day.
I found the man feeding a dog and putting bread on the floor for the pigeons. I saw the surprise register on his face as I sat next to him on the bench and asked him his name.
“So you’re not in a hurry after all” He said with a smirk
I shook my head bashfully and offered him the plastic bag with my good intentions. I was shocked when he refused to accept my kindness and felt embarrassed for having assumed that he needed my charity. He proceeded to explain that he had enough money to feed himself and that he didn’t roam the streets because he had to. My interested amounted as I realized that there was more to the man than his appearance.
His name is Luis Filipe,
He is 57 years old and when he was my age he had an adventure with a woman he didn’t love to spite the one that he did. She fell pregnant and he became the father of a little girl.
The mother of this child was independent and chose to raise the child on her own, only allowing his presence as an outsider.
He fell in love with this child that grew to be spoilt and mistreated her father and the one woman that treated him with love and respect, his mother, died only four months before. The woman he loved got married to someone else and he dedicated his life to the daughter that never accepted her father.
His daughter who is a selfish brat and yet whom is described with the utmost of love and care, after various mental problems decided to shut her father out six months before.
And so, Luis Filipe roams the streets of Lisbon, between Entrecampos, Campo Pequeno and Praça de Espanha… feeding the pigeons, watching children in the parks and watching families around him. Even though I knew the answer, I asked him in any case, why he’d chosen to stop and warn me.
“You were alone, you remind me of my daughter and I just wanted you to be safe”
I told Luis that if he wasn’t going to accept dinner, then we were going to have to give it to someone who needed it. He told me that the homeless man he knew wasn’t around anymore so I decided to go to the church where I knew another homeless man would be sleeping on the stairs. He asked me how I knew this and was surprised when I told him that sometimes I leave whatever I don’t finish for dinner on the stairs for him to eat when he wakes up. I felt guilty that I hadn’t left anything in a while, but times have been tough and I’ve had to work out a tight budget.
Luis told me that men like the one I left dinner to, often passed out in a drunken stupor and that it was good of me to leave some food rather than give him money, he’d only buy booze in any case and often he went through days without eating a thing.
I asked Luis if he drank and I was surprised when he told me that the only thing he did that I might disapprove of is that he messes with the garbage. He explained to me that people throw away good things that he sometimes made good use of and most importantly, he looked for bread for the pigeons and food for the stray dogs. He also told me that at two restaurants, the employee’s were good enough to separate some of that food for him.
Luis isn’t your average stereotyped hobo! He likes going to the museum on days that it’s for free; he’s present at every public event and he enjoys the free shows and musicals that the city provides for his entertainment. I was surprised to find out that he also goes into the coffee shop at Entrecampos station just to listen when someone plays piano. Luis isn’t a big soccer fan but he’s been watching the recent world cup matches on the different TV screens in pubs and restaurants and hopes Portugal will win. When I asked him what difference it would make to him whether or not Portugal won considering that he wasn’t a sports fan, he simply smiled and said people in the streets are happier and nicer when Portugal wins in the soccer. For a man with no education, he sure knows a lot about the world. I particularly enjoyed listening to his point of view on Fernando Pessoa whose poetry I only recently discovered.
As Luis Filipe walked me home, bystanders would look at me suspiciously. They must’ve found it strange that a young girl would walk side by side a stray man. Did they fear for my safety? It’s not like any of them would do something about it if I were in any real danger…
A security guard near the municipal library stepped in my direction as if to ask if I was being bothered. I felt Luis shrink in a mixture of fear and embarrassment next to me but I gave the security my warmest smile to let him now that my companion’s presence was welcome.
Against my common sense I put myself at risk allowing this man to walk me home, and yet, I don’t believe I’ve ever felt so safe in this city like I did with Luis walking by my side.
Luis surprised me by thanking me for letting him walk and talk with me; we’d spent two hours that more than made up for the whole day’s sour events. He told me that he didn’t have many friends and that even though he hadn’t expected me to have come back, he had thought I was an angel after I had looked in his eyes and touched his arm. Shocked, I touched his arm again and told him that he was as much my angel as I had been his.
I can’t think of a better way to have spent my evening than with Luis Filipe who relieved the weight of my disappointment in others, restoring my faith and renewing my hope.
The more we know, the less we seem to understand. We’re so quick to judge and to label that we don’t even realize when the true opportunities pass us by. Luis owed me nothing, and yet because I reminded him of his daughter, he chose to him me a word of care. I shouldn’t have stopped at night for a stranger, and yet ignoring my good sense to trust my heart started this entry that you’re reading. The smallest gesture can have a world of worth when you add the results up. I probably would’ve never met a friend like Luis in the bar I was headed to… and I’m glad I didn’t go.
Sometimes I fear that Lisbon is a city too cold to find any warmth, tenderness or happiness. And yet, angels like Luis Filipe show me that there’s still a lot of love around and that I’ll always be able to find it if I listen to my heart and keep the faith.